The world is still reeling from the New Zealand Christchurch attacks that occurred on March 15, 2019. The deadliest act of terrorism in the country’s history left at least 50 dead and at least 50 more wounded. As news of the victims continues to trickle in, we have learned that one of the casualties of the massacre was 33-year-old Atta Elayyan, a legend of the New Zealand Counter-Strike scene who played under the nickname “crazyarab.”
He was one of the most interesting men in the world.
Breaking into Counter-Strike
Elayyan, a Kuwait-born New Zealander, first discovered Counter-Strike in 2002. In his own words, while he never broke in with any major teams through Counter-Strike 1.3 – 1.6, his early adoption of Counter-Strike: Source paid off. When his old clan broke up, he moved on to join a “bunch of randoms” going by the squad name NewType. The team was unknown at the time but was committed to winning. The group spent hours playing and practicing together, until they had eventually taken down all of the top Australian teams.
Elayyan documented his days as a pro CS:S competitor on the community forum, GamePlanet:
“After my beloved .ar clan split up, I took a stab and decided to join the new kids on the block… a bunch of ‘randoms’ who called themselves NewType. Nobody had heard of Grudge, Atvar or Supertech at this stage but these guys were insanely hell bent on winning and we spent 6-7 hours a night, every night playing Australians where we eventually toppled all of their top teams. With most of the top CSNZ players still tied up in 1.6, we were fairly unstoppable winning xLAN after xLAN and nearly every online comp we entered.”
NewType’s short run was one of dominance in the region. A list of the team’s accolades can be found on GamePlanet, which documents seven first place finishes and 12 Top-three finishes, out of 15 events. Elayyan departed the team in 2008, and while he wasn’t around the scene for a very long time, he was a pioneer for the region and left a lasting impression on the community.
Life after gaming
While the man was an excellent Counter-Strike player, Atta Elayyan had no shortage of talents. If ever there were a way to move on to an even more interesting life after spending time as a pro-gamer, Atta lived it.
His decline in Counter-Strike only came as a result of focusing on final-year university exams for a degree in Computer Science. After graduating, he worked as a UX designer for FireTrust, a computer security company. Shortly after that, he started his own entrepreneurial project called Chatflow. Elayyan’s big break eventually came in 2010, when he and friend Mike Choeung got together to build Lazyworm Apps, a media solutions company focused on developing programs for the Windows Store.
Lazyworm went on to develop major apps like MetroTube and Tweetro+ and worked closely with large companies like Microsoft, Mediaworks and Aramex. According to Nigel Parker, a principal software engineer at Microsoft, MetroTube was, at one point, the most popular app on the Windows store.
Elayyan was featured in a September 2012 keynote on Microsoft Ignite as one of New Zealand’s top Windows app developers. He was also recognized by CIO100 as “one of New Zealand’s most transformative technology and digital leaders” in both 2017 and 2018.
In an article for Medium, Parker spoke at length on Elayyan’s acumen as a developer, and his character as a person.
“Atta had that rare blend of engineering and design. His strength was understanding people and building user interfaces that worked best the way that we do. He wanted to build consumer apps that delighted people and attempted to reach as many people as possible. He didn’t want to sell users to advertisers or build platforms that prayed on people’s needs to pay for the best experiences. Instead he poured everything into the software he created, made it available for free without ads or tracking data and then invited people to pay if they liked the experience.”
Parker went on to note that, despite facing failures on a regular basis, Atta stayed positive. He’d mark every milestone by taking every member of his projects out to dinner.
— Atta Elayyan (@attaelayyan) March 7, 2012
Christchurch’s own Clark Kent
Making the transition from trailblazing CS:S pro to trailblazing app developer, Atta Elayyan spent a significant amount of his life on computers. But he wasn’t just your average nerd. He was just as much of a competitor physically as he was in the worlds of gaming and tech.
As if his bio wasn’t already impressive enough, Elayyan was also the starting goalkeeper for the New Zealand Futsal Whites, the country’s national indoor-soccer team.
According to New Zealand Football, Elayyan was a “hugely popular member of the futsal community” and competed in 19 A Internationals for the Futsal Whites organization. He was also a cornerstone of the Canterbury United Futsal Dragons team. According to Stuff, a day before the attacks, Elayyan had met with Ronan Naicker, a good friend and Mainland Football’s futsal development officer, to pick up gear for the Christchurch Boys’ futsal team. Elayyan was set to coach the Christchurch Boys’ High School team at the secondary school nationals at Wellington this coming Monday.
QUOTE | @NZ_Football Futsal Development Manager @margetts_josh: “To Atta’s family, we are deeply sorry for your loss. We can’t imagine what you are going through, but please know we love you and we are here for you during this incredibly difficult time.” #RIPAtta @MainlandFooty pic.twitter.com/tCcileWiUK
— New Zealand Football (@NZ_Football) March 17, 2019
Naicker, who himself had coached Elayyan and the Canterbury Dragons to two national championships (and a Player of the Year award for Elayyan), had this to say on his friend’s tragic death:
“He tried to give back to his old school by coaching teams. Even though he didn’t have the time he still found time and he did it all for nothing. He never asked for anything in return. He was a truly exceptional human being.”
According to Stuff, he also worked with the goalkeepers for the Canterbury women’s team, who won the inaugural national league title this past February.
Beyond football, it seems Elayyan also had an avid interest in automobiles. He built a custom E30 340i V8 BMW which, according to a video posted on his own YouTube channel, won the award for Best 8 Cylinder Vehicle at a “South Islands Champs” show and shine competition.
A lasting impression
In the short time since it was discovered that Atta Elayyan was one of the 50 people murdered in the Christchurch massacre, the outpouring of support from the community has been resounding. Peers, teammates, gamers and friends alike have openly offered respects and tributes.
Atvar, a Counter-Strike teammate from NewType, shared the following words on GamePlanet:
“I am honoured to have known Atta from our days back in 2005-2009 playing Counter-Strike. He was one of the kindest, and [friendliest members] of the [CSNZ] community. He never had a bad word to say about anyone, and in my two to three years of playing with him, I don’t remember him ever speaking in anger to anyone.
“He stayed with myself and my parents for the odd LAN and they found him to be a very polite and well-mannered individual. He was driven to reach his potential in all aspects of his life and also assisted others in fulfilling their potential too. I will cherish the times we spent playing together and hope to emulate your best qualities where I can. He really was the best of us in the [CS] community and I will miss you brother.”
New Zealand Football Interim Chief Executive Andrew Pragnell had this to say:
“It is still hard to comprehend what happened in Christchurch on Friday afternoon. On behalf of everyone at New Zealand Football our thoughts and prayers go out to anyone who has been affected by these heinous acts of violence. My heart goes out to the futsal community. They are a very tight-knit group and this news of Atta’s death will be devastating for all involved in the game. We feel their pain and their grief.”
Chris Sinclair, a former futsal teammate, who had eventually moved into refereeing, shared these thoughts:
“I was a referee and he never had a bad word to say about anything. He’s just a genuine man – heart of gold, not only for his culture, but his family and the futsal community.”
Good friend and coach Ronan Naicker spoke on Elayyan being a devout Muslim and how seamlessly he adapted to the culture in New Zealand:
“He was somebody you would follow. He wasn’t someone that was trying to be a leader, he just naturally was by his personality… That’s why it’s so tragic because he set an example of someone that can seamlessly integrate across a faith, a community, and religions. It was never an issue when it came to that for him.”
Wedding card design… for my own wedding :D! pic.twitter.com/bdPmoKP2PA
— Atta Elayyan (@attaelayyan) December 20, 2015
Ryan Batty, another former teammate of Elayyan’s from the Canterbury and New Zealand squads, had this to say:
“It was a great privilege to have known and played alongside such [an] incredible man. He has left a big hole in the futsal community and will be forever missed. Atta was a genuine, loyal, and committed man in every aspect of his life. He was well respected by everyone in the futsal community and you couldn’t have met a nicer man, who always made time for everybody.”
Josh Margetts, the Futsal Development Manager for New Zealand, also once played alongside Elayyan:
“Atta was a great man and well-liked by everyone in the Futsal Whites squad and the futsal community. There are no words to sum up how we are all feeling. There is huge hole in our hearts as we come to terms with the loss of a great person and a good mate. He will be sorely missed. To Atta’s family, we are deeply sorry for your loss. We can’t imagine what you are going through, but please know we love you and we are here for you during this incredibly difficult time.”
Rest in peace Atta. We can't understand the hate, but we do know the love of our futsal community and you won't be forgotten.
Futsal people, our people pic.twitter.com/xuLfZKzlhz
— Futsalplanet.com (@futsalplanet97) March 16, 2019
Nigel Parker, who was quoted above as a lead software engineer for Microsoft, added:
“Atta Elayyan to me was one of those people that you are lucky to meet in your lifetime. He was a genuine leader, talented designer and inspiring entrepreneur… Atta was a friend who gave so much to everyone that knew him. What he achieved in his short life is more than most.
“He raised to the top of everything he applied his energy to, he took risks, he was unafraid of failure and he failed often, yet he was humble and believed in collaboration over competition in everything he did.
“There is [a] hole that has opened up inside me that will take time to heal but instead of hate we must stand together, encourage diversity and integration.”
A memorial thread for Elayyan was posted on the Global Offensive subreddit and many fans, teammates and fellow Counter-Strike players also offered their condolences.
Gone, but never forgotten
Atta, an Arabic name, means gift or to give. By every account that’s come forth about the man since his passing, Atta Elayyan lived up to his name. He gave to his community. He gave to his teammates. He gave it his all in pursuing his passions. He was a relentlessly interesting and talented man that smiled in the face of adversity and took every failure in stride. In his short time on this planet, his kindness, charisma and work ethic touched many different people from all walks of life.
His own words give a glimpse into the man that he was.
“I never thought I would ever be in a position to say this however I actually owe a lot to [Counter-Strike]. I would have never gotten into the tech industry had I not been obsessed with gaming during those years and the hours of focus, intense game play and desire to succeed has actually helped me alot in many aspects of my life. Of course, even if it was a complete waste of time, the people and friends I met during those years made it worth it
Would I tell my 17 year old self to do it again?… Yep.”
Elayyan’s father was with him at the time of his death and was among the few that survived the attack. Elayyan also left behind a wife, Farah, and a two-year-old daughter, Aya.
Atta Elayyan was just one of 50. Remember him, but don’t forget to remember the other lives that were lost that day, each with their own story, their own path, and their own mark on this world.